Brewers' GM Doug Melvin has done exactly what he hoped to do entering the current offseason: add two legitimate starting pitchers to a dreadful rotation that finished with a combined ERA over five last season.
While Randy Wolf and Doug Davis will never be confused with CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay as dominant starters, they are stabilizing forces to a rotation that is desperate for consistency.
The Brewers dropped from 90 wins in 2008 to 80 wins in 2009. They played all of last season without Sabathia or Ben Sheets, each of whom contributed for prolonged lengths of time the year before. It's a testament to the rest of the team to lose two All-Star pitchers but only see a 10 game decline in wins.
The Brewers actually got off to a great start last season, holding a record of 30-20 on June 1, the best 50-game start in team history.
Injuries and sub-standard play then began to take over in the rotation. Manny Parra spent time in the minors, while Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and Seth McClung all spent time on the disabled list.
Their replacements weren't able to fill the void, and the Brewers finished 50-62 for the remainder of the year.
Enter Wolf and Davis. Wolf has made at least 33 starts the last two seasons, while the only year Davis has made less than 33 starts (26) was in 2008 when he missed time for cancer treatment. In other words, fans will be able to count on the two newest Brewers to make every scheduled start in 2010.
Critics will say Wolf and Davis are nothing more than middle of the rotation pitchers. While that may be a slap in the face to their abilities, average pitchers are exactly what the Brewers need this season.
The Brewers have Yovani Gallardo, who showed in 30 starts last season that he is more than capable of being the "ace" of a pitching rotation. In just 185 2/3 innings pitched last season, Gallardo finished with 204 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA. His 13-12 record was a result more of a lack of run support than anything he did on the mound.
Gallardo may be the best pitcher on the staff but don't look for him as the number one pitcher. Wolf will likely get that role, not because of money, but due to he and Davis being left-handed pitchers. Gallardo will be slotted between the two so teams won't be facing lefties on back-to-back days.
The top three spots, barring injury, will indeed be Wolf, Gallardo, and Davis. The final two spots will be filled in Spring Training. Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, and Dave Bush will compete for the jobs.
As much as every Brewers fan would love to see Jeff Suppan cut, that just isn't going to happen. Suppan has done great work for Brewer-related charities, and while that won't win any games on the field, it is something that the majority of people like seeing in their athletes. Also, Suppan has a very good relationship with owner Mark Attanasio. More than anything else, that will keep him in Milwaukee for the final year of his contract.
That leaves one spot for Dave Bush and Manny Parra. There is a large contingency of fans that would be just as happy to see both of them leave along with Suppan.
Bush was having a very good year prior to getting injured in Florida off a Hanley Ramirez line drive. He was never able to come back completely healthy and finished the season with a record of 5-9 and a 6.38 ERA.
He will enter 2010 with a clean bill of health and look to build upon the very good first half he was putting together prior to the injury.
As bad as 2009 was for Dave Bush, it may have been worse for Manny Parra. Although he finished with a record of 11-11, he spent time in the minors for lack of control and ended the season with an ERA of 6.36.
As was the case last year, Parra will be the wild card for the 2010 rotation. No one has ever questioned his physical abilities. All the doubts creep up when talking about Parra between the ears. Fans that saw him pitch last year can attest that at times Parra looks scared to be on the mound.
If, and it's a BIG if, Parra can step up mentally and have his focus and intensity match his physical gifts, he is capable of being as good as any left-handed pitcher in the league. He has a dynamic fastball and breaking pitches that can fool the best hitters in the game.
Because of his immense talent, look for Parra to end up as the fifth starter in the rotation. Although three lefties in a rotation could be problematic, all three bring enough differences to the mound to be effective.
Bush will likely take over the long reliever role occupied by Seth McClung last season. He has experience coming out of the bullpen both for the Brewers and in college at Wake Forest.
Fans may not be very excited at the idea of a rotation of Wolf, Gallardo, Davis, Suppan, and Parra, but they should be. Barring injury, this rotation will be a significant upgrade over the 2009 rotation. If these five can get through their six innings on a regular basis, they will turn the game over to a very good bullpen that won't give up very many leads.
Even though the offense may be down a bit with the losses of Mike Cameron and JJ Hardy, the pitching staff doesn't need to be great for the Brewers to be a playoff threat in 2010. Staying healthy is the key for the pitching staff's success.
A season of healthy average pitchers will make fans forget a season of below-average, injury-riddled pitchers last season. Average in baseball is actually a very good thing. Average for the five starters on the Brewers' staff in 2010 should equal an exciting September of baseball once again in Milwaukee.
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